David Alan ParnellNov 4, 2023
Belisarius & Antonina
Love and War in the Age of Justinian
Oxford University Press 2023
Belisarius and Antonina were titans in the Roman world some 1,500 years ago. Belisarius was the most well-known general of his age, victor over the Persians, conqueror of the Vandals and the Goths, and as if this were not enough, wealthy beyond imagination. His wife, Antonina, was an impressive person in her own right. She made a name for herself by traveling with Belisarius on his military campaigns, deposing a pope, and scheming to disgrace important Roman officials. Together, the pair were extremely influential, and arguably wielded more power in the late Roman world than anyone except the emperor Justinian and empress Theodora themselves. This unadulterated power and wealth did not mean that Belisarius and Antonina were universally successful in all that they undertook. They occasionally stumbled militarily, politically, and personally - in their marriage and with their children. These failures knock them from their lofty perch, humanize them, and make them even more relatable and
intriguing to us today.
Belisarius & Antonina: Love and War in the Age of Justinian (Oxford UP, 2023) is the first modern portrait of this unique partnership. They were not merely husband and wife but also partners in power. This is a paradigm which might seem strange to us, as we reflexively imagine that marriages in the ancient world were staunchly traditional, relegating wives to the domestic sphere only. But Antonina was not a reserved housewife, and Belisarius showed no desire for Antonina to remain in the home. Their private and public lives blended as they traveled together, sometimes bringing their children, and worked side-by-side. Theirs was without a doubt the most important nonroyal marriage of the late Roman world, and one of the very few from all of antiquity that speaks directly to contemporary readers.
Dr. David Alan Parnell is an Associate Professor of History at Indiana University Northwest. He is the author of Justinian’s Men (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and has worked on numerous articles about the military and social life of the sixth-century Roman Empire. He is also a consultant, recently working on Epic History TV’s documentary series on Belisarius.
Evan Zarkadas (MA) is an independent scholar of European and Medieval history and an educator. He received his master’s in history from the University of Maine focusing on Medieval Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, medieval identity, and ethnicity during the late Middle Ages.